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At This Hour

Fighting Rages At Steel Plant As Evacuation Efforts Continue; U.S. Economy Adds 428K Jobs In April, Unemployment Remains At 3.6 Percent. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 06, 2022 - 11:00   ET




BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with new developments in the war in Ukraine. It's a race against time to rescue trapped civilians in Mariupol. The humanitarian crisis at the Azovstal steel plant is growing worse by the hour, as many as 300 civilians including women, children, and wounded soldiers are believed to still be sheltering there, many suffering from hunger, bullet wounds and a lack of medicine.

Now even with evacuation efforts accelerating Ukraine's President Zelenskyy says Russia's shelling of the plant is not stopping. This as the Pentagon says Russian forces have made some small progress in parts of the Donbass region but not as much progress as the Kremlin had expected. And we've just learned that the group of seven leaders including President Biden will hold a virtual meeting with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy on Sunday, just before the key date of May 9th, which is Victory Day in Russia.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN Sara Sidner, who was on the ground in Kyiv. Sara, is the situation at that steel plant in Mariupol?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, a third and fresh rescue operation is underway, trying to get the remaining hundreds of people who are still stuck in the dark dank maze of bunkers underneath the Azovstal steel plant. The problem is the bombardments are continuing even after Russia said that there was going to be a ceasefire to allow civilian corridor that simply has not happened according to commanders on the ground there.

They have said that Russia has once again lied about what it was going to do. In the meantime, there are bloody battles being waged, and some of those battles are actually inside the plant because a commander says that Russian forces have made it inside that plant and there is fierce fighting that continues to go on. This is all happening as people watch and wait for May 9th, and that is when Russia celebrates V Day. They believe that there is a real effort from Russia to try and crush Mariupol to try to take it over completely. And to rid it of its last Ukrainian stronghold, which is the Azovstal plant in and around that plant for V Day so that it can talk about its victories. At this moment in time, the bombardments are just nonstop, there is fighting from the ground there is fighting from the air. And amongst all of this, there are hundreds of civilians who are still listening to all this in complete darkness with little food, little water. We're talking about men, women, and children all trapped underneath that plant unable to get out.

But there is a fresh effort, a third effort by the way to get these folks out of there. We know that about 500 people in the last two rescue efforts have been able to escape with the help of the International Red Cross, the U.N., and Ukrainian officials. At this point in time, we are starting to hear terrible devastating stories from those who have been trapped there in the darkness for so long. Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Yes, Sara I mean, they have been there for months on end, their stories are horrific. Sara Sidner, thank you so much.

Well, CNN has learned that the U.S. military provided intel that helped Ukraine sink Russia's Moskva warship in the Black Sea last month. But the Pentagon is pushing back on the claim saying that it didn't provide specific targeting information to the Ukrainians. Our CNN's Katie Bo Lillis is in Washington with the latest details. So, Kate, this is a bit confusing. What our military officials saying about this report then?

KATIE BO LILLIS, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Bianna, let's talk about what we know. Sources have told myself and my colleague Natasha Bertrand that in mid-May, the Ukrainian spotted the Moskva, the Russian Flagship operating in the Black Sea off of their coast. They called up their American counterparts and asked for confirmation that it was indeed the Moskva.

The United States provided that confirmation and gave them some more precise details about the location of the ship, which then of course allowed the Ukrainians to fire two cruise missiles that ultimately sunk the Moskva. Now, U.S. officials, the Biden administration is not disputing that sequence of events, but they are drawing a fairly narrow distinction about the kind of intelligence that, kind of location intelligence that they provided to the Ukrainians.

Officials say that the United States did not provide precise geolocation data that would allow the Ukrainians to immediately move to sink the ship. And of course, the U.S. has also been fairly straightforward in saying or has been fairly frank in saying that they were not involved in the decision to strike the Moskva and in fact, when they provided that information, didn't know whether or not the Ukrainians intended to do so.

It's all part of a series of limitations that the Biden administration is trying to draw round the kind of intelligence that they are willing to provide the Ukrainians in this fight. Take a listen to what Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby had to say on this just this morning.



JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We are not providing specific targeting information to help Ukrainians go after senior military leaders on the battlefield. We give them information. Other partners give them information. And oh, by the way, they have terrific intelligence of their own. They corroborate all that together, and then they make the decisions they're going to make, and they take the actions they're going to take.


LILLIS: Again, beyond this, is the administration attempting to draw some lines around the limits of intelligence that they're willing to provide so that in their minds, they are not escalating the situation into a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia? Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: Yes, so this was the second report this week that suggested that the U.S. provided more intelligence that we knew of going into their help in assisting Ukraine there on the ground. Katie Bo Lillis, thank you.

Well, at this hour, you're looking at live pictures of First Lady Jill Biden in Romania. This is just the first stop of a busy four-day visit to Eastern Europe for the first lady. She arrived just a short time ago at an airbase in Romania, where she's meeting with U.S. and NATO military leadership. She's also serving dinner and visiting with troops stationed at the base. And after that she'll be meeting with Ukrainian refugees in both Romania and Slovakia. Biden wraps her trip on Monday after meeting with members of the Slovak Government.

Well, joining me now is retired Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, now a military expert and Senior Fellow with Defense Priorities. And also, with us Jill Dougherty, she is the former CNN Moscow bureau chief and now an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Welcome both of you.

Lieutenant Colonel, let's begin with this news this week, multiple reports of the role that the U.S. has played in providing Ukraine with intelligence one involving the movement of high ranking Russian military officials. The other obviously what you just heard Russia's flagship cruiser, the Moskva being sunk, we should note the U.S. is denying playing a role in it's sinking. But is this helpful to have these leaks out there?

LT. COL. DANIEL L. DAVIS (RET.), MILITARY EXPERT AND SENIOR FELLOW, DEFENSE PRIORITIES: Well, no, I mean, without question, it's not helpful to have those kinds of leaks, because we don't know how they're going to be used, and certainly how they're going to be twisted around in ways that are antithetical to our interests in Russia, in Moscow, whether at the Putin level or just even in their population. I don't think anyone's surprised that we're providing intelligence help. But I do think that what Kirby said was probably accurate in that we provide probably a whole range of intelligence.

And there's probably a number of different aspects of this war that we provide as information on and then Ukraine does make its own decisions about what it will and what it can attack. And then they go from there. So I think that there's some truth to it. But I do worry about us crossing the line. And I think that's something that the administration is right and being careful about.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, because up until now, the U.S. had been pretty discreet. Most people had assumed that the U.S. was providing some sort of Intel to the Ukrainians but perhaps it was more helpful not to be this specific. And now we have these two back to back reports this week. Jill, talk about that. How does this play into the Kremlin's narrative that this war now is not between Russia and Ukraine, but in fact, between Russia and the West? And perhaps that this helps them save face, given the setbacks they continue to have two months or almost two and a half months in?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, both I think Bianna of those points are very good. Number one, obviously, President Putin has been talking about this as a conflict, not just with Ukraine, but with NATO and the United States, who he would say, use Ukraine as a weapon against Russia. And then the second part, which I think is really important that you mentioned, is this is a way of, since this war for Russia is not going well. It is a way of Vladimir Putin saying that, you know, it's not really Ukraine that we are fighting. It's really NATO. It's really the West.

Hence, if we don't do as well as we thought we're going to do, that's the reason because it is really ignominious for them, for Russia to admit that it could be bested by Ukraine. So I think there are a number of, you know, different messages going on here.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, and that is the message that we've seen over the past few weeks on Russian state media day in day out. Colonel, there is a lot of speculation that Russia has stepped up its attempts to seize the steel plant, which is the last holdout there in Mariupol in order to have some kind of victory that Vladimir Putin can declare on Monday, May 9th, which commemorates the Soviet Union's victory against the Nazis. What does capturing Mariupol give Russia militarily?

DAVIS: Yes, it does. It plays a significant emotional role in what the Russians are doing. And I think that there's a lot of credibility to the argument that that's what Putin is trying to do. And maybe that's why they're trying to accelerate this to get it done by May the 9th because there's a lot of history in Mariupol and a lot of it a lot of bad blood between Ukrainians and Russians in that area, going all the way back in 2014 when the original war started there, the Civil War- ish kind of thing with Russia participated in.


And that the Azov Battalion, which was the primary defender and whose troops are still in the Azovstal complex, have reportedly killed lots of Russian speaking people in that area over the years and they had lots of bad blood. And so when Russia says they want denazification, the primary target they had in mind is the Azov Battalion. So to take that, and to complete the destruction of that battalion in the Azovstal on May 9th, I think would be a big PR effort for Putin. I think that's what he's trying to do.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And there are reports that there may even be some parades as macabre as that may sound on May 9th there in Mariupol itself. Just imagine that given the devastation unfolded upon that city. Jill, this is a really important issue I'd like to raise with you. Talk about the significance of May 9th in Russia, listen, my parents grew up there in the Soviet Union. It is of high importance to Russians currently, as it was to Soviets decades ago.

And it's important for our viewers to understand just how ingrained this state is in Russian society. And why Putin's narrative that his so-called special military operation in Ukraine, to root out Nazis as crazy as that may sound to the rest of the world why it's so effective with millions of Russians?

DOUGHERTY: Oh, there's no question, Bianna. And you understand this very well. I mean, May 9th, the victory by the Soviet Union over in Nazi Germany is extraordinarily important. It always has been. And President Putin now, I think, is since he is building somewhat of an ideology about modern Russia. He combines this, this is really the core of his image of Russia. And he believes that Russia, number one, save the world during World War II. And this is not to demean what the Soviet Union did, no question.

But this Soviet Union, Russia, is the savior of the world, and also a very strong element of suffering and national angst. And that plays into it, too. So you're dealing with high emotion at this point. And then his linking it to World War II and Nazis is precisely what we're talking about in this war in Ukraine. He said, as everyone knows, that he is trying to denazify the country.

So linking those with what's going on in Russia right now, you know, there's a high level of, I would say, rehabilitation of Stalin, a kind of militarization of the society, including with young people. And so this is the, you know, he is playing with I think that concept of a nation in this and linking it to what's going on in Ukraine, no question.

GOLODRYGA: Such important historical context there. Jill Dougherty, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, thank you so much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: And coming up a new jobs report gives the White House some good news. We'll break down the numbers and what they could mean when it comes to the risk of a recession.



GOLODRYGA: The April jobs report just out this morning showing that the U.S. added 428,000 jobs last month. That's above what economists were predicting. Unemployment remained steady at 3.6 percent, the gains pushing the U.S. closer to a complete recovery from the pandemic. Joining me now to discuss CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond and CNN's Matt Egan. Matt, let's begin with you. This is a strong report doesn't suggest them that any talk of a recession is premature.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Bianna. Talking of an imminent recession is premature. I mean by many measures, the U.S. economy remains strong. It's really impressive that payrolls are still growing at such a rapid clip, despite the worker shortage and unemployment rate down to 3.6 percent. That is a remarkable improvement from the peak of nearly 15 percent, exactly two years ago.

If anything, though, the concern is that the jobs market and that the economy are overheating. That the Federal Reserve is going to have to take drastic steps to put this fire out. And I don't think anything about today's report really changes that narrative. In fact, it may reinforce some of those concerns. And on the risk of a recession, it's important to emphasize that the concern is not necessarily in imminent recession that begins this year. It's whether or not in late 2023 and 2024 as the Fed keeps raising interest rates, it accidentally causes a recession and I don't think we got any clarity on that front today, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: So Jeremy, given all of that, what are you hearing at the White House? It is difficult to tout a strong economy, when so many Americans are focused on one thing primarily, and that is inflation as indicated by poll numbers. Only 23 percent of Americans say economic conditions are good right now. That's in stark contrast to what the actual numbers tell us. And in the last time Americans viewed the economy this poorly in CNN polling at least was in 2011. So what can the White House do?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a big struggle for the White House. I mean, listen, this is the 12th straight month that you've seen job growth, monthly job growth, above 400,000 jobs gain. And yet every single month in at least the more recent months, you've seen President Biden both trying to talk about these record-breaking numbers of jobs creation, near low, near 50 year low of unemployment, millions of jobs created during his presidency, but he always has to temper that he has in the last several months.

He's had to temper that with the reality that Americans are focused on which is inflation. You saw it in his statement today from the President where he says that there is still more work to do as it relates to inflation. And he and the White House have been trying to convince Americans that they are doing, doing the work to try and combat that rising inflation.


But it's not convincing the public. You mentioned that poll number of 23 percent of Americans saying that they see the economy is doing well. But there's also other numbers from that same CNN poll where a majority of Americans believe that President Biden's policies have actually hurt the economy. So there's this massive disconnect between some of these record numbers that we're seeing in terms of the strong jobs market, versus what Americans actually feel and how they perceive the economy to be doing. And it's a big disconnect and a gulf that the Biden administration is struggling to mend and something that they desperately need to do before those November midterms.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, yes. And it's a big head scratcher. Any other context, you would have people really celebrating this economy from the White House on down, but Americans don't seem to be feeling this growth. Matt, let's parse through the numbers. Wage growth seems to be down a bit. How worrisome is that with respect to inflation concerns specifically.

EGAN: So wages are still growing rapidly up 5.5 percent over the past 12 months, wages are hot, but inflation is even hotter, right? Eight and a half percent year over year for consumer prices, it's a 40-year high. That means that if you adjust for inflation, real wages are actually declining. Paychecks are not going as far as they used to. And that is why people are so upset about inflation.

Now, we did see in today's report, that inflation did cool off just a bit from the last few months. And that could ease some concerns about a wage price spiral where high inflation causes people to demand high wages and that leads the high wages inflation. And so it could become this negative feedback loop. But I think that wages do remain growing at a pace that is going to concern the Fed, it's going to keep the Fed having to raise interest rates.

GOLODRYGA: Jeremy, there's only so much the President can control over that at this point. I mean, all eyes really are on the Fed. But given what he's being dealt with regards to China's tight zero COVID policy continuing to be a strain on supply chains. And now Putin's war in Ukraine really having impacts on commodity prices on, you know, on everything from oil to grains, what more can he do?

DIAMOND: Yes, well, where the White House does have control over some of those levers, they've really acted on supply chains, for example, is really the top issue. We saw the White House focus on that early on. They had some success in alleviating some of those supply chain issues. But when it comes to inflation, you know, we've heard President Biden try and put so much of that on Vladimir Putin talking about Putin's price hike, we saw him release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try and lower gas prices.

But ultimately, he's fairly limited, particularly when it comes to inflation. And that's because one of the biggest tools to combat inflation is monetary policy, which is not controlled by the White House not controlled by the president but controlled by the Federal Reserve. So we'll see whether or not that rate hike that Matt was just talking about actually has an impact on inflation. And ultimately, if it does, it could benefit President Biden.

There is this disconnect between what Americans perceive to be in the President's hands and ultimately, the President tends to get perhaps too much credit in some instances and too much blame in other instances for how the economy is doing particularly on matters like inflation. GOLODRYGA: Yes, J. Powell warning this week that he at least at this point, is confident that he can bring things into it to a relatively soft landing, bringing inflation down while maintaining economic growth. We of course will continue to follow it all. Jeremy Diamond, Matt Egan, thank you.


And so coming up, the FDA now putting strict limits on who can get the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine because of possible health risks. What that means for the millions of Americans who already took the shot. We'll discuss that up next.


GOLODRYGA: Now to the pandemic, new FDA restrictions on the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine because of a rare but serious side effect. That vaccine is now being limited to people ages 18 and older who had a serious allergic reaction to the mRNA vaccines. People with personal concerns about other vaccines who say they won't get vaccinated at all if they can't get the J&J shot, and those who do not have access to the other approved vaccines.

The FDA making this announcement after updated analysis of the J&J vaccine shows a risk of rare and dangerous blood clots as a side effect. Joining me now to go over this is CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. She herself took part in a Johnson & Johnson clinical trial and received the J&J vaccine. Dr. Wen, great to have you on. So you say this new guidance aligns with what you and many other doctors have already been advising to their patients recommending Pfizer or Moderna first and then J&J, explain why.


DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's right, Bianna. Well, we became aware of this extremely rare but very serious blood clotting disorder that initially was seen in younger women who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine about a year ago.